Histamine in Foods other than Fish and Fishery products
What is histamine?
Histamine is a biogenic amine which is a naturally occurring substance in the human body. Histamine is derived from the break down (decarboxylation) of the amino acid histidine. It has important physiological functions related to local immune responses, gastric acid secretion and neuromodulation.
See our other FAQ on Histamine in Fish and Fishery Products.
What is histamine food poisoning?
Histamine is involved in the body’s inflammation response and if food or drink with raised levels of histamine are ingested, it can produce symptoms similar to that of an allergic reaction.
What foods can pose a risk of histamine food poisoning?
After fish, cheeses are reported to be the next most commonly implicated food in histamine poisoning. However, histamine production can occur in a wide range of other foods, particularly fermented foods, such as fermented meats (e.g. sausage), wine, sauerkraut, miso, vegetables and soy sauce.
What are the symptoms?
Onset of symptoms of histamine food poisoning can range from several minutes to several hours following ingestion. Typically, the average incubation period before onset of illness is approximately one hour. Severity of illness varies depending on factors such as the amount of histamine present and the susceptibility of the affected person. Generally, observed symptoms are:
- Abdominal cramps
- Skin rash
- Burning sensation of the mouth and lips
- A peppery taste sensation
How is histamine produced?
Histamine is produced when the enzyme histidine decarboxylase, produced by a wide range of spoilage microorganisms, breaks down the amino acid histidine present in the food or drink. The production rate of histamine is temperature and time dependent and, in general, increases with increasing temperature. In addition, histamine accumulation is minimised at lower temperatures, since low temperatures slow down microbial growth and reduce enzyme activity. The optimum temperature for the formation of histamine by mesophilic bacteria has been reported to be between 20-37°C, while production of histamine decreases below 5°C and above 40°C. For example, the bacterium Morganella morganii is known to be a powerful histamine producer in seafood at storage temperatures of 7-10°C.
Which bacteria are involved?
A wide range of bacteria are capable of producing histamine. Examples include, Morganella morganii, Klebsiella spp., Pseudomonas, Clostridium, Citrobacter freundii, Lactobacillus buchneri and more. However, the primary bacteria responsible for producing histamine varies in different kinds of foods - for example, M. morganii in fish, compared to Lactobacillus buchneri in Swiss cheeses.
How is histamine controlled?
Strict control of the cold chain (≤ 5°C) during processing and storage will minimise histamine production by inhibiting the growth of histamine-producing spoilage bacteria and by reducing the activity of the enzyme histidine decarboxylase, the enzyme responsible for histamine production.
Can processing technologies prevent histamine production?
Spoilage bacteria responsible for histamine production can survive a wide range of processing conditions such as smoking, brining, salting, fermenting and drying. Histamine already produced can also survive these processes. Vacuum packaging is also not an effective method of preventing the production of histamine.
Histidine decarboxylase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down histidine into histamine, can remain active even after the bacteria responsible for producing it have been inactivated or killed. The enzyme continues the histamine production slowly at refrigeration temperatures and the it remains stable if frozen, thus allowing it to rapidly re-commence activity after thawing. Whilst the enzyme that produces histamine can be inactivated by cooking, once histamine has been produced, it cannot be eliminated by heat treatment (cooking/freezing) and its toxicity remains intact.
Last reviewed: 30/5/2018